Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/6/2017 (1471 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They say a tie game in football — like we saw Saturday night — has all of the merit of kissing your sister, because in either scenario, there are no winners.
Outside of the obvious and immature humour of this happening on a weekend night in Regina, of all places, we also saw many characteristics — both good and bad — that we have come to expect from this Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team over the past few seasons.
The concern is continuity from one year to another; whether the positive identity forged in one season can carry over to the next. Even with about 10 impactful players not making the trip West, many of the attributes this football team has come to define itself with — and struggles against — were on full display throughout the 2017 preseason opener.
In large quantities, the Bombers showed fortitude and grit, and did not give up on the contest even when down by multiple scores throughout the majority of the game, and with time beginning to expire in the fourth. We have come to learn that these football teams, led by Mike O’Shea, are more immune to the momentum swings and highs and lows that are inevitable throughout a marathon season.
Whether they are at the top of their game, or struggling, like they were for stretches on Saturday night, we have come to learn you can never quite write one of these teams off.
Another trait that translated to success last season, and was used to their advantage again on Saturday night, was taking the football away on defence at opportune times. At this point, one can’t be sure how defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall teaches this, or manages to ingrain it in his players, but making opportune plays at pivotal moments, and having his players rise to the occasion, is something his defence has done for some time now, even when it is giving up considerable yardage.
Going hand in hand with this, we also witnessed the 2016 phenomenon of the offence feeding off of those takeaways, taking advantage of the sudden change in possession and field position to capitalize with quick scores. These two phases consistently played off of each others' momentum swings last season, and were a big reason this team had the successes it did.
At the other end of the spectrum, some characteristics you might have hoped to have dropped over the off-season were also to be found: a special-teams punt return for a touchdown was nullified by a penalty, and a player was ejected from the contest for some undisciplined play. Calling back a tremendous special-teams effort that would have resulted in a major, because of a penalty, has almost become cliché in these parts.
The advantage that the pre-season does afford coaches, though, is that they can set the tone by actually cutting players who commit undisciplined and selfish acts that cost the team dearly, and not necessarily have to concern themselves with depth issues or a dearth of talent, that might limit these decisions in the regular season.
Along these same lines — of habits you might have hoped they dropped — the defence struggled at times to get home with its blitz package, gave up some big runs and seemed to get figured out by the opposing play-callers who seemingly had a screen play waiting for any instance where the Bombers sent more than four rushers.
There were even elements and traits in this game that we didn’t see last season, but expected to this year. Not only did backup and free-agent acquisition Dan LeFevour prove his worth as a reliever, entering the game midway through the fourth quarter and pulling it out of the fire, but he also displayed his ability as a change-up pitcher, whose knack for threatening the opposition with his legs opened things up on the field offensively.
For a team that left a good percentage of its game-changers at home and travelled to the soft opening of the most hostile environment in the CFL, it was both familiar and reassuring to see evidence that the traits that made last season’s identity a success were still around and in abundance.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears weekly in the Free Press.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.